U.S.-backed commandos kill blind Colombian revolutionary leader
On May 17, a U.S.-backed Colombian commando unit, acting like bounty hunters, illegally crossed into the Venezuelan state of Zulia to murder Colombian rebel leader Jesus Santrich. Like the criminal gangsters they are, the commandos cut off his left finger to verify his identity to claim the $1 million bounty cosponsored by the U.S. State Department and the Colombian President Ivan Duque.
One might be forced to ask the question: why would the U.S. and Colombian governments place a $1 million bounty for a dead-or-alive capture of a blind 55-year-old former peace negotiator who was in a small mountain town near the Colombia-Venezuela border?
Jesus Santrich was a revolutionary fighter for national independence, peace with justice, and socialism. Given the history of the rule of a vicious oligarchy in Colombia long propped up by billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, someone like Santrich was a marked man. A longtime member and leader with the revolutionary organization FARC-EP, Santrich played a role as a peace negotiator that secured the historic Peace Accords in 2016. As part of that deal with the Colombian government, the FARC-EP transformed from an armed guerrilla organization into a legal political party with a guaranteed ten seats in congress. Santrich was to fill one of those seats.
However, despite Santrich’s being blinded by a deteriorating eye condition, the ultra-right Duque administration and U.S. imperialism considered him a threat in need of removal. He, and other revolutionaries, were a threat to the oligarchy, as he was a vocal proponent of the rights of the workers and peasants and criticized the government for not fulfilling their promises under the peace agreement. To prevent him from taking his legally guaranteed Congressional seat, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Colombian government cooked up drug charges with plans to extradite him to the United States.
This operation was designed to undermine the peace agreement and impede the left’s participation in Colombian politics. This arrest violated the peace agreement – in particular, Transitory Article 19 of the Legislative Act 01 of 2017, which determines that the Colombian Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP) is the only competent authority to handle this matter, as none of the spurious accusations occurred anywhere but in Colombia.
This indictment that was a frame-up by the DEA and the Colombian attorney general and used false evidence. There were videos that had been tampered with and they attempted to use the nephew of Iván Márquez as a snitch. Later it was found that the Colombian attorney general had failed to disclose that Santrich’s telephone was tapped and interceptions clearly showed that Santrich was not involved in drug trafficking and was working on projects for the peace process
In fact, the DEA evidence revealed 24,000 recordings from illegal wiretapping of Santrich, most of which was the DEA and its informant, and some person impersonating FARC leader Ivan Marquez. Even with these blatantly obvious falsifications and lack of credible evidence, the U.S. government continued to push to have Santrich arrested and extradited. Santrich responded with a 40-day hunger strike that drew international attention to his case.
Santrich would not have been the first Colombian revolutionary to be extradited to the U.S. on bogus charges. Simón Trinidad, now 70, has been languishing in the Florence, Colorado Supermax prison after having been extradited to the United States in 2004, convicted on trumped-up charges, and sentenced to 60 years. Many believe that if the Colombian government really wanted to show their commitment to the peace process, that it should begin efforts to achieve the repatriation of the Colombian hero Simón Trinidad. This action would engender enormous confidence in the flailing peace process.
The JEP ruled that Santrich could not be extradited to the United States due to many irregularities in the case, including insufficient proof, and ordered his immediate release. Santrich was about to be released from La Picota prison when the Colombian attorney general had him re-arrested based on ‘new’ evidence provided by the United States to the Colombian attorney’s general’s office. Santrich was drugged by officials, reportedly tried to commit suicide by slitting his wrists when he heard that he was going to be extradited and was flown off in a helicopter to the attorney general’s jail called the Bunker. Santrich suffered a cardiac and pulmonary arrest and was hospitalized.
The JEP prevailed and had Santrich released and began an in investigation of misconduct by the attorney general who issued the warrant and the U.S. DEA. The attorney general promptly resigned.
This story can almost be seen as a microcosm of the peace process: the U.S. government, from Obama to Trump and now Biden, is financing and greenlighting the Duque government to undermine the congressionally approved Peace Accords. Since the signing in November 2016, the violent repression of Colombia’s social movements has been the worst in the world. Well over 1000 social leaders have been murdered and over 250 ex-FARC members have been killed in a clear sign that the government is not interested in peace.
It is also painfully clear that, with the disarming of the FARC-EP, many of the left were exposed and made vulnerable. For these and many other reasons, Santrich, veteran leader Ivan Marquez, and many others left the FARC political party in August 2019 to re-form the FARC-EP as an armed revolutionary organization in the hopes of uniting with other guerrilla groups like the ELN and FARC dissidents who had never turned in their arms.
For Santrich and many others, it was clear that the Colombian oligarchy and members of the government were not interested in pursuing peace. Instead, they continued their allegiance to their U.S. imperial masters.
In a country that has historically suffered at the hands of brutally violent governments with full support and coordination from the U.S., Santrich and the Colombian people met a macabre spring. When a proposed tax hike sparked protests, Duque unleashed the police and military forces, resulting in over 50 people dead and over 600 disappeared. Just weeks later, at the frothing request of President Duque and the oligarchy attempting to tighten its waning grip on power, the Colombian Supreme Court re-issued the order to arrest of Jesus Santrich for extradition for the well-documented bogus drug charges. The JEP capitulated, stating that once Santrich re-entered armed conflict, he lost the benefits of transitional justice.
The stage was set and Santrich knew it. The day before the ambush of rifle fire and grenades, the FARC-EP published Santrich’s comments about the gutless betrayal the Colombian elites in service of their imperial masters in the U.S. “In my view, all these sheep of neocolonialism should be ravaged. Let the devil come and choose.”
It is clear that the Colombian oligarchy and U.S. imperialism needed Santrich dead in order to save face from the embarrassing corruption scandals between narco-financial elites and the DEA. Moreover, it continues to prop up two lies convenient for the maintenance of U.S. imperial power in South America: that the FARC are associated with drugs and that Venezuela harbors terrorists. For that, Colombia once again violated Venezuelan territorial sovereignty by conducting an illegal military operation inside its borders. In the last few years, Venezuelan intelligence has uncovered the clear connections between Bogota-Miami-Washington for the coordination of destabilization attempts through assassination attempts, criminal cartels and small-scale invasions.
In their statement the day after the assassination, on May 18, the FARC-EP wrote, “Santrich died free, free how he wanted. Free dreaming of a New Colombia with complete peace with social justice, democracy and a life of dignity for Colombians.”